Republicans had encouraged, or at least tolerated, schoolyard taunts and far-fetched conspiracy talk long before Trump’s campaign. He started out in Republican presidential politics by accusing the president of not being a U.S citizen, a slur that had been bandied about by many highly visible Republicans. He has now moved on to recycling conspiracy theories from 20 years ago about Hillary Clinton that were promoted at the time by talk-show hosts and Republican members of Congress.
The fact that Donald Trump rose to prominence within the Republican Party by promoting birtherism while Republican elites first looked the other way and then eagerly sought his support is indeed crucial.
Another part is how Republicans lowered the standards for their politicians. Normally voters might oppose Trump as flat-out unqualified for the job, both by lack of relevant experience and lack of knowledge of government and public affairs. But by giving a megaphone to people like Pat Robertson, Herman Cain, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, Republicans showed their voters what counts as a “normal” Republican presidential candidate — and it isn’t all that different from Donald Trump. Republican voters had many well-qualified candidates in 2016, but they had been taught by their party to ignore normal qualifications, and they did so.
Jonathan is actually leaving out the best example here: Sarah Palin. John McCain — at the urging of party elites — selected her to be second in line to the presidency with no input from the voters, and party elites and conservative pundits* strongly defended the choice contemporaneously. It’s pretty hard to convincingly claim that an ignorant buffoon like Donald Trump isn’t a serious candidate for president when you’ve put an ignorant buffoon on a presidential ticket. (And while George W. Bush was not as unqualified as Palin, the proudly ill-informed anti-intellectualism that was central to his shtick was not incidental to the rise of figures like Trump.)
That same observation can be made about how Republicans have tolerated and promoted bigotry, forging a path for Trump to go even further. McArdle is wrong to say that the Republicans’ “Southern strategy” of the Richard Nixon era was only incidentally pitched to bigots. In 1968, Nixon was clearly and deliberately going after pro-segregation voters abandoned by the Democratic Party, a strategy continued (for example) by Lee Atwater in the 1988 presidential race on behalf of George H.W. Bush.
Right, the southern strategy had nothing to do with racism. When, say, Richard Nixon worked with the not-at-all-racist Strom Thurmond’s top political advisor to try to gut the Voting Rights Act, that had nothing to do with race.
The idea that the Republican Party doesn’t own Trump is simply absurd.
*Guess which conservative pundit said the following things when McCain selected Palin:
This woman is an Obama-level political natural. She is a ferociously good speaker, and almost preternaturally composed.
The Democrats are, as my colleague Clive Crooks notes, in trouble. Whatever you think of her as a potential president, she is a politically brilliant choice, and Democrats are going to have a very hard time finding traction to attack her.
I have no reason to think that she would be a particularly bad president. Obama hasn’t any more relevant experience than she has; he’s simply been coaching for the thing longer.
The fact that Republican voters took Donald Trump seriously is truly mysterious.
…much more here.